It turns out fliers like free meals, after all. Even in coach.
That’s the conclusion at Delta Air Lines, which will add free meal service for all passengers on "select coast-to-coast" routes following a test of the idea last year.
Delta says the change will begin on 12 of its transcontinental routes this spring, all routes on which the carrier faces competition. On those routes, Delta will offer fliers a breakfast option in the morning and sandwich or wrap options for flights later in the day. Passengers on red-eye flights will be included, too; they’ll receive a breakfast bar during their flights’ pre-arrival beverage service.
Delta’s first-class passengers have always received meals on most long domestic flights. But Delta and most other traditional U.S. carriers began phasing out regular meal service in economy last decade – even on long transcontinental domestic flights.
Delta's decision to bring coach-class meal service back to some of its longer domestic flights comes after it experimented with doing so last year, adding complimentary meals on its transcontinental flights between New York JFK and the California cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco.
During that test period, which ran from November through mid-December, Delta says it “closely monitored customer satisfaction scores to determine the impact on the in-flight experience and saw a significant increase as a result of the test.”
That, Delta says in a statement, prompted it to bring back the offering on those routes and expand it to others.
“When we tested this concept, our customers loved it and appreciated it so we are implementing in our most strategic markets,” Allison Ausband, Delta’s SVP – In-Flight Service, says in a statement.
This "Mediterranean veggie wrap" will be one of the complimentary coach-class menu options Delta will add to "select coast-to-coast" flights. (Photo: Delta Air Lines)
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The meal-service change will debut March 1, when Delta begins serving complimentary food to all passengers on its flights between New York JFK and both Los Angeles and San Francisco.
Ten more routes will be added April 24, when Delta expands the option to flights on the following city-pairs: Boston-San Francisco; Boston-Los Angeles; Boston-Seattle; Washington Reagan National-Los Angeles; New York JFK-Portland, Ore.; New York JFK-San Diego; New York JFK-Seattle; Seattle-Fort Lauderdale; Seattle-Orlando and Seattle Raleigh-Durham.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the new meal option is being added on routes where Delta goes head-to-head with some of its fiercest rivals.
The service from JFK to L.A. and San Francisco are among Delta’s flagship domestic routes, with the airline facing direct competition from American, JetBlue and Virgin America. In particular, Delta, American and JetBlue have become particularly competitive on those routes, adding amenities in coach as well as upgrading to lie-flat seats for business-class service.
And Virgin America was recently acquired by Alaska Airlines, which Delta has engaged in an intense turf war in Alaska Air’s hometown of Seattle.
Also likely not a coincidence, the other 10 routes on which Delta is bringing back free meals are all routes where it flies head-to-head with Alaska Airlines.
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(Photo: Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren, Special for USA TODAY )